Sunday January 8, 2017
4:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
“Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord.”
950 years ago on the feast of the Epiphany, King Edward the Confessor was buried before the High Altar of Westminster Abbey. Saint Edward’s statue stands proud on the main façade of our church; when you leave today, look up – he is one of the largest statues in the center towards the top. On the same day in 1066, Harold was crowned his successor in the Abbey. As the Dean of Westminster, John Hall, has said, it is hard to imagine how the Abbey managed a royal funeral, a coronation and the feast of the Epiphany all on the same day!
In just under two weeks’ time, the inauguration ceremony of the 45th president of the United States will take place in Washington DC. The ceremony is, actually quite short – the only requirement being that the newly elected president take an oath or affirmation that he will ‘faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Most of the presidents of the United States have taken their oath using a bible and added the words ‘so help me God’ or a prayer at the end.
From Edward the Confessor to the presidents whose images are carved in stone in our church there has been a recognition that the power of state must be executed in justice because it derives not from the authority of the person crowned or elected but from God himself. As Queen Elizabeth II, one of Edward’s successors has said many times, her office is a calling, a vocation, and one that she dedicated to God.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany here at Saint Thomas Church and in our Old Testament lesson we heard how kings and princes shall recognize the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem. The Epiphany, which comes from the Greek word ‘to reveal’ is a feast when we recognize that the incarnation is for all people. The wise men are sometimes referred to as Kings – this morning we sang the traditional carol “We three Kings of Orient are’ – Matthew’s gospel describes the three visitors as magi which we usually translate as astrologers or wise men who came, again as Matthew tells us, from the East.
Astrologers or kings, the wise men bring costly gifts to the Christ child – gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts, more symbolic than useful in the house of a toddler, have prophetic meaning. Gold is given to a king; incense is burned to honor God; fragrant myrrh is used to prepare a dead body for burial. Thus, in their visit, the wise men affirm and prophecy the role of the Christ child in the salvation of the world: He is a king – but not as the world knows; he is God – but a God who has made himself present among his people; he is to die – but his death will not be the end.
On the feast of the Epiphany we celebrate the revelation of Christ to all people; an old title for the feast describes this celebration as the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles. Isaiah’s prophecy comes true in Jesus Christ – all people will come, Jew and Gentile, to be saved.
Were the wise men kings? It does not really matter – what matters is that those who represent authority, power and wisdom recognize the supremacy of God in their lives, and these three magi recognized the Christ – the anointed one – the Word made flesh who dwelt among us full of grace and truth.
As Pope Francis has said: The wise men entered into the mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery: this was their conversion.
The wise men knew that something wonderful was to happen and had been inspired by a bright star. Their astrological calculations and their knowledge of scriptures other than their own had brought them to Jerusalem. There, they had an encounter with human authority and power in the person of King Herod but they were unsatisfied; their journey continued and led them to Bethlehem where their calculations, the star and the prophecies all converged. Then, suddenly, in the presence of the child Jesus they were changed; no longer did they need to try and work things out – they gave him their symbolic gifts; they paid him homage, and they worshipped. Mary, meanwhile, treasured all these things in her heart.
In Bethlehem, the wise men discovered that they had not reached the end of their journey; they had not arrived, they were just setting out! Their encounter with Jesus changed their lives and, therefore, changed the course of their journey. They did not return to Herod who represented the abuse of power and a form of idolatry that placed human ambition over God’s plan of redemption. The wise men left for their own country but went by another route. Having entered the mystery of the incarnation they were converted. So, as Pope Francis carried on to say, “Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion experienced by the wise men. Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the star.”
My friends, Christ is our morning star – may his light illuminate our lives and show us the route that we must take in order to find our true home.
 Isaiah 49:1-7; verse 7 serves as the title of this sermon.
 Sermon preached in St Peter’s Basilica, Feast of the Epiphany 2015.